Why Melissa McCarthy and Lena Dunham are Great Role Models for Girls

Women In Film's 2011 Crystal + Lucy Awards - ArrivalsBeauty is in the eye of the beholder, unless you are a female character on television or in the movies. There is only one acceptable look and that’s thin and pretty. Melissa McCarthy, who is gorgeous by the way, was called a “hippo” by Rex Reed last week, causing a storm of controversy. And critics, bloggers, and jerks alike were up in arms that Lena Dunham’s character could hook up with a super hot doctor, played by Patrick Wilson, in the latest episode of Girls (because it’s so hard for a 25-year-old to get an older man to sleep with her?). This is after Dunham made up with Howard Stern, who had called her a “little fat chick” last month.

It’s pathetic that while these two brave and genius women are at the top of their respective games, they’re still being called out because their looks aren’t “ideal.” McCarthy’s latest movie, Identity Thief, had the biggest opening of any movie so far this year, but Google her and “hippogate” dominates.

I live in Los Angeles, where the unreal expectations of female beauty are all around. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a teenage girl here in a town filled with models and actresses. Or, frankly, a teenage girl anywhere. (I have young boys who I hope I’m raising to be ones who would never say some of things mentioned above.) Most of the girls on television look the same as the women in this town; very thin and very pretty.

And the message that if you’re not skinny, you’re fat, is evidenced with the brutal commentary on Lena Dunham. She’s not overweight, but her thighs touch, her breasts are real, and she doesn’t have a six pack; meaning she’s on television but she’s not “perfect.” What she is is brilliant and fearless. Her commentary on this moment in time for young women will last way beyond Girls.

The same goes for the ridiculously talented and hilarious McCarthy. Manohla Dargis in the New York Times said of her performance in Identity Thief, “she is the supernova who burns up this show.”

These supernovas are so hot they must be changing the perception of what it means to be a woman on television and film, and hopefully in real life too. At least I hope they are, because according to the Girl Scouts Healthy Media Commission, 55 percent of girls say they diet and 31 percent admit starving themselves. And sadly, “Sexualized messages and images of girls and women result in boys’ developing unrealistic and unhealthy expectations of girls’ and women’s physical appearance.”

Melissa McCarthy and Lena Dunham are great role models for girls because they are so successful at being different. They embrace imperfection and individuality and because of that their performances are incredible. They don’t change and they don’t conform to what society says they “should” look or act like. Maybe someday they won’t be attacked for that.

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Related: Forget “Girls.” The Real “Real” Women are at Spa Castle.

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